Federal reclass, possible WMPO expansion

by Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), the regional transportation planning agency for New Hanover County, and parts of Pender and Brunswick counties, recently received a promotion of its federal status to a Transportation Management Agency. 

Mike Kozlosky, WMPO executive director, said the reclassification of the WMPO as a TMA was due to the fact that the citizen base the WMPO serves has exceeded 200,000 people. After the release of the 2010 United States Census in March of this year, Kozlosky said the WMPO was officially designated as a TMA on July 18. 

With its new designation, the WMPO will receive a boost in federal funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHA) Surface Transportation Program Direct Attributable funds (STP-DA). 

“A benefit of this designation is that we will receive STP Direct Attributable funds, which the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) will be able to disseminate as they desire and we are now preparing a local prioritization process,” Kozlosky said. 

Exactly how much STP funding the WMPO will receive is still unknown, Kozlosky said; but the WMPO is basing the estimate on the $4 million Asheville receives annually, which was designated a TMA based on the 2000 census.  

“However, from 2000 to 2010 there were only seven TMAs and there were three additional TMAs created based on the 2010 data,” he said. “But the amount of funds has not gotten any larger so it will reduce the current TMA shares in order to accommodate the creation of these three new TMAs.” 

The other two MPOs to receive the TMA classification were the Carrabus-Rowan MPO and the Greater Hickory MPO. An additional requirement with the TMA designation includes updating the urbanized area boundary — areas that are currently urban — and the metropolitan planning boundary — areas anticipated to become urban in the next 20 years. 

In updating these boundaries the WMPO extended invitations to the towns of Surf City and Topsail Island to be included in the WMPO. So far, only Surf City has responded, and Mayor Zander Guy and the town council denied the WMPO’s offer. Surf City town manager Michael Moore said council simply did not feel that the town had much to gain by joining the WMPO at this time. 

Without invitation, Southport passed a resolution in September requesting to be included into the WMPO and encouraging the surrounding municipalities like Boiling Springs Lakes, Oak Island, Caswell Beach, St. James and Bald Head Island to do the same. Kozlosky said the final decision of whether or not to expand the WMPO would come from the TAC. 

“What we would provide is transportation planning services to those entities,” he said. “They would get a seat at the table, they would have a vote on the TAC and they would also have the ability to tap into the STP funds.” 

Although inclusion into the WMPO may be a good thing for any new members, Kozlosky said expansion could also carry negative impacts for existing members since the strength of each vote on the TAC would be diluted and since the WMPO would not receive any more planning or STP funds than it already does. 

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